Roman law is the legal system of ancient
2 Roman legal development
2.1 The Twelve Tables
2.2 Early law and jurisprudence
2.3 Pre-classical period
2.4 Classical Roman law
2.5 Post-classical law
3 Roman law substance
3.2 Public law
3.3 Private law
3.4 Roman status
3.5 Roman litigation
4.1 In the East
4.2 In the West
4.3 Roman law today
5 See also
7 Further reading
8 External links
Historically, "Roman law" also denotes the legal system applied in most of
Roman legal development
Before the Twelve Tables (754–449 BC), private law comprised the Roman civil law (ius civile Quiritium) that applied only to Roman citizens, and was bonded to religion; undeveloped, with attributes of strict formalism, symbolism, and conservatism, e.g. the ritual practice of mancipatio (a form of sale). The jurist Sextus Pomponius said, "At the beginning of our city, the people began their first activities without any fixed law, and without any fixed rights: all things were ruled despotically, by kings". It is believed that Roman Law is rooted in the Etruscan religion, emphasising ritual.
The Twelve Tables
Main article: Twelve Tables
The first legal text is the Law of the Twelve Tables, dating from mid-5th century BC. The plebeian tribune, C. Terentilius Arsa, proposed that the law should be written, in order to prevent magistrates from applying the law arbitrarily. After eight years of political struggle, the plebeian social class convinced the patricians to send a delegation to Athens, to copy the Laws of Solon; they also dispatched delegations to other Greek cities for like reason. In 451 BC, according to the traditional story (as Livy tells it), ten Roman citizens were chosen to record the laws (decemviri legibus scribundis). While they were performing this task, they were given supreme political power (imperium), whereas the power of the magistrates was restricted. In 450 BC, the decemviri produced the laws on ten tablets (tabulae), but these laws were regarded unsatisfactory by the plebeians. A second decemvirate is said to have added two further tablets in 449 BC. The new Law of the Twelve Tables was approved by the people's assembly.
Modern scholarship tends to challenge the accuracy of Roman historians. They generally do not believe that a second decemvirate ever took place. The decemvirate of 451 is believed to have included the most controversial points of customary law, and to have assumed the leading functions in Rome. Furthermore, the question on the Greek influence found in the early Roman Law is still much discussed. Many scholars consider it unlikely that the patricians sent an official delegation to
The fragments which did survive show that it was not a law code in the modern sense. It did not provide a complete and coherent system of all applicable rules or give legal solutions for all possible cases. Rather, the tables contained specific provisions designed to change the then-existing customary law. Although the provisions pertain to all areas of law, the largest part is dedicated to private law and civil procedure.
Early law and jurisprudence
Main articles: Lex Canuleia, Lex Hortensia, and Lex Aquilia
Many laws include Lex Canuleia (445 BC; which allowed the marriage—ius connubii—between patricians and plebeians), Leges Licinae Sextiae (367 BC; which made restrictions on possession of public lands—ager publicus—and also made sure that one of consuls is plebeian), Lex Ogulnia (300 BC; plebeians received access to priest posts), and Lex Hortensia (287 BC; verdicts of plebeian assemblies — plebiscita — now bind all people).
Another important statute from the Republican era is the Lex Aquilia of 286 BC, which may be regarded as the root of modern tort law. However,
Traditionally, the origins of Roman legal science are connected to Gnaeus Flavius. Flavius is said to have published around the year 300 BC the formularies containing the words which had to be spoken in court to begin a legal action. Before the time of Flavius, these formularies are said to have been secret and known only to the priests. Their publication made it possible for non-priests to explore the meaning of these legal texts. Whether or not this story is credible, jurists were active and legal treatises were written in larger numbers the 2nd century BC. Among the famous jurists of the republican period are Quintus Mucius Scaevola who wrote a voluminous treatise on all aspects of the law, which was very influential in later times, and Servius Sulpicius Rufus, a friend of Marcus Tullius Cicero. Thus,
In the period between about 201 to 27 BC, we can see the development of more flexible laws to match the needs of the time. In addition to the old and formal ius civile a new juridical class is created: the ius honorarium, which can be defined as "The law introduced by the magistrates who had the right to promulgate edicts in order to support, supplement or correct the existing law." With this new law the old formalism is being abandoned and new more flexible principles of ius gentium are used.
The adaptation of law to new needs was given over to juridical practice, to magistrates, and especially to the praetors. A praetor was not a legislator and did not technically create new law when he issued his edicts (magistratuum edicta). In fact, the results of his rulings enjoyed legal protection (actionem dare) and were in effect often the source of new legal rules. A Praetor's successor was not bound by the edicts of his predecessor; however, he did take rules from edicts of his predecessor that had proved to be useful. In this way a constant content was created that proceeded from edict to edict (edictum traslatitium).
Thus, over the course of time, parallel to the civil law and supplementing and correcting it, a new body of praetoric law emerged. In fact, praetoric law was so defined by the famous Roman jurist Papinian (Amilius Papinianus—died in 212 AD): "Ius praetorium est quod praetores introduxerunt adiuvandi vel supplendi vel corrigendi iuris civilis gratia propter utilitatem publicam" ("praetoric law is that law introduced by praetors to supplement or correct civil law for public benefit"). Ultimately, civil law and praetoric law were fused in the Corpus Juris Civilis.
Classical Roman law
Main articles: Gaius (jurist), Ulpian, Aemilius Papinianus, Julius Paulus Prudentissimus, and Herennius Modestinus
The first 250 years of the current era are the period during which Roman law and Roman legal science reached the highest degree of perfection. The law of this period is often referred to as classical period of Roman law. The literary and practical achievements of the jurists of this period gave Roman law its unique shape.
The jurists worked in different functions: They gave legal opinions at the request of private parties. They advised the magistrates who were entrusted with the administration of justice, most importantly the praetors. They helped the praetors draft their edicts, in which they publicly announced at the beginning of their tenure, how they would handle their duties, and the formularies, according to which specific proceedings were conducted. Some jurists also held high judicial and administrative offices themselves.
The jurists also produced all kinds of legal commentaries and treatises. Around AD 130 the jurist Salvius Iulianus drafted a standard form of the praetor's edict, which was used by all praetors from that time onwards. This edict contained detailed descriptions of all cases, in which the praetor would allow a legal action and in which he would grant a defense. The standard edict thus functioned like a comprehensive law code, even though it did not formally have the force of law. It indicated the requirements for a successful legal claim. The edict therefore became the basis for extensive legal commentaries by later classical jurists like Paulus and Domitius Ulpianus. The new concepts and legal institutions developed by pre-classical and classical jurists are too numerous to mention here. Only a few examples are given here:
Roman jurists clearly separated the legal right to use a thing (ownership) from the factual ability to use and manipulate the thing (possession). They also found the distinction between contract and tort as sources of legal obligations.
The standard types of contract (sale, contract for work, hire, contract for services) regulated in most continental codes and the characteristics of each of these contracts were developed by Roman jurisprudence.
The classical jurist Gaius (around 160) invented a system of private law based on the division of all material into personae (persons), res (things) and actiones (legal actions). This system was used for many centuries. It can be recognized in legal treatises like William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England and enactments like the French Code civil or the German BGB.
By the middle of the 3rd century, the conditions for the flourishing of a refined legal culture had become less favourable. The general political and economic situation deteriorated as the emperors assumed more direct control of all aspects of political life. The political system of the principate, which had retained some features of the republican constitution, began to transform itself into the absolute monarchy of the dominate. The existence of a legal science and of jurists who regarded law as a science, not as an instrument to achieve the political goals set by the absolute monarch, did not fit well into the new order of things. The literary production all but ended. Few jurists after the mid-3rd century are known by name. While legal science and legal education persisted to some extent in the eastern part of the Empire, most of the subtleties of classical law came to be disregarded and finally forgotten in the west. Classical law was replaced by so-called vulgar law. Where the writings of classical jurists were still known, they were edited to conform to the new situation.
Roman law substance
jus civile, Jus gentium, and jus naturale - the jus civile ("citizen law", originally jus civile Quiritium) was the body of common laws that applied to Roman citizens and the Praetores Urbani, the individuals who had jurisdiction over cases involving citizens. The jus gentium ("law of peoples") was the body of common laws that applied to foreigners, and their dealings with Roman citizens. The Praetores Peregrini were the individuals who had jurisdiction over cases involving citizens and foreigners. Jus naturale was a concept the jurists developed to explain why all people seemed to obey some laws. Their answer was that a "natural law" instilled in all beings a common sense.
Jus scriptum and jus non scriptum - the terms jus scriptum and ius non scriptum literally mean written and unwritten law, respectively. In practice, the two differed by the means of their creation and not necessarily whether or not they were written down. The ius scriptum was the body of statute laws made by the legislature. The laws were known as leges (lit. "laws") and plebiscita (lit. "plebiscites," originating in the Plebeian Council). Roman lawyers would also include in the ius scriptum the edicts of magistrates (magistratuum edicta), the advice of the Senate (Senatus consulta), the responses and thoughts of jurists (responsa prudentium), and the proclamations and beliefs of the emperor (principum placita). Ius non scriptum was the body of common laws that arose from customary practice and had become binding over time.
ius commune and ius singulare - Ius singulare (singular law) is special law for certain groups of people, things, or legal relations (because of which it is an exception from the general principles of the legal system), unlike general, ordinary, law (ius commune). An example of this is the law about wills written by people in the military during a campaign, which are exempt of the solemnities generally required for citizens when writing wills in normal circumstances.
ius publicum and ius privatum - ius publicum means public law and ius privatum means private law, where public law is to protect the interests of the Roman state while private law should protect individuals. In the Roman law ius privatum included personal, property, civil and criminal law; judicial proceeding was private process (iudicium privatum); and crimes were private (except the most severe ones that were prosecuted by the state). Public law will only include some areas of private law close to the end of the Roman state. Ius publicum was also used to describe obligatory legal regulations (today called ius cogens—this term is applied in modern international law to indicate peremptory norms that cannot be derogated from). These are regulations that cannot be changed or excluded by party agreement. Those regulations that can be changed are called today jus dispositivum, and they are not used when party shares something and are in contrary.
Main articles: Ius publicum, Constitution of the
Cicero, author of the classic book The Laws attacks Catilina, a traitor to the Republic, in the Roman Senate
The constitution of the
Main articles: Ius privatum, Stipulatio, and Rei vindicatio
Stipulatio was the basic form of contract in Roman law. It was made in the format of question and answer. The precise nature of the contract was disputed, as can be seen below.
Rei vindicatio is a legal action by which the plaintiff demands that the defendant return a thing that belongs to the plaintiff. It may only be used when plaintiff owns the thing, and the defendant is somehow impeding the plaintiff's possession of the thing. The plaintiff could also institute an actio furti (a personal action) to punish the defendant. If the thing could not be recovered, the plaintiff could claim damages from the defendant with the aid of the condictio furtiva (a personal action). With the aid of the actio legis Aquiliae (a personal action), the plaintiff could claim damages from the defendant. Rei vindicatio was derived from the ius civile, therefore was only available to Roman citizens.
Main article: Status in Roman legal system
To describe a person's position in the legal system, Romans mostly used the expression status. The individual could have been a Roman citizen (status civitatis) unlike foreigners, or he could have been free (status libertatis) unlike slaves, or he could have had a certain position in a Roman family (status familiae) either as the head of the family (pater familias), or some lower member.*alieni iuris-which lives by someone elses law.
Main article: Roman litigation
The history of Roman Law can be divided into three systems of procedure: that of legis actiones, the formulary system, and cognitio extra ordinem. The periods in which these systems were in use overlapped one another and did not have definitive breaks, but it can be stated that the legis actio system prevailed from the time of the XII Tables (c. 450 BC) until about the end of the 2nd century BC, that the formulary procedure was primarily used from the last century of the Republic until the end of the classical period (c. AD 200), and that of cognitio extraordinarem was in use in post-classical times. Again, these dates are meant as a tool to help understand the types of procedure in use, not as a rigid boundary where one system stopped and another began.
During the republic and until the bureaucratization of Roman judicial procedure, the judge was usually a private person (iudex privatus). He had to be a Roman male citizen. The parties could agree on a judge, or they could appoint one from a list, called album iudicum. They went down the list until they found a judge agreeable to both parties, or if none could be found they had to take the last one on the list.
No one had a legal obligation to judge a case. The judge had great latitude in the way he conducted the litigation. He considered all the evidence and ruled in the way that seemed just. Because the judge was not a jurist or a legal technician, he often consulted a jurist about the technical aspects of the case, but he was not bound by the jurist's reply. At the end of the litigation, if things were not clear to him, he could refuse to give a judgment, by swearing that it wasn't clear. Also, there was a maximum time to issue a judgment, which depended on some technical issues (type of action, etc.).
Later on, with the bureaucratization, this procedure disappeared, and was substituted by the so-called "extra ordinem" procedure, also known as cognitory. The whole case was reviewed before a magistrate, in a single phase. The magistrate had obligation to judge and to issue a decision, and the decision could be appealed to a higher magistrate.
In the East
Main articles: Corpus Juris Civilis and Byzantine law
Title page of a late 16th century edition of the Digesta, part of Emperor Justinian's Corpus Juris Civilis.
When the centre of the Empire was moved to the Greek East in the 4th century, many legal concepts of Greek origin appeared in the official Roman legislation. The influence is visible even in the law of persons or of the family, which is traditionally the part of the law that changes least. For example
The codes of Justinian, particularly the Corpus juris civilis (529-534) continued to be the basis of legal practice in the Empire throughout its so-called Byzantine history. Leo III the Isaurian issued a new code, the Ecloga, in the early 8th century. In the 9th century, the emperors Basil I and Leo VI the Wise commissioned a combined translation of the Code and the Digest, parts of Justinian's codes, into Greek, which became known as the Basilica. Roman law as preserved in the codes of Justinian and in the Basilica remained the basis of legal practice in Greece and in the courts of the Eastern Orthodox Church even after the fall of the Byzantine Empire and the conquest by the Turks, and also formed the basis for much of the Fetha Negest, which remained in force in Ethiopia until 1931.
In the West
Main articles: Early Germanic law, Anglo-Saxon law, and Medieval Roman Law
In the west, Justinian's political authority never went any farther than certain portions of the Italian and Hispanic peninsulas. Law codes were edicted by the Germanic kings, however, the influence of early Eastern Roman codes on some of these is quite discernible. In many early Germanic states, ethnic Roman citizens continued to be governed by Roman laws for quite some time, even while members of the various Germanic tribes were governed by their own respective codes.
The Code and the Institutes of Justinian were known in Western Europe, and along with the earlier code of Theodosius II, served as models for a few of the Germanic law codes; however, the Digest portion was largely ignored for several centuries until around 1070, when a manuscript of the Digest was rediscovered in Italy. This was done mainly through the works of glossars who wrote their comments between lines (glossa interlinearis), or in the form of marginal notes (glossa marginalis). From that time, scholars began to study the ancient Roman legal texts, and to teach others what they learned from their studies. The center of these studies was
The students, who were taught Roman law in Bologna (and later in many other places) found that many rules of Roman law were better suited to regulate complex economic transactions than were the customary rules, which were applicable throughout Europe. For this reason, Roman law, or at least some provisions borrowed from it, began to be re-introduced into legal practice, centuries after the end of the
There have been several reasons why Roman law was favored in the Middle Ages. It was because Roman law regulated the legal protection of property and the equality of legal subjects and their wills, and because it prescribed the possibility that the legal subjects could dispose their property through testament.
By the middle of the 16th century, the rediscovered Roman law dominated the legal practice in a lot of European countries. A legal system, in which Roman law was mixed with elements of canon law and of Germanic custom, especially feudal law, had emerged. This legal system, which was common to all of continental Europe (and
The practical application of Roman law and the era of the European Ius Commune came to an end, when national codifications were made. In 1804, the French civil code came into force. In the course of the 19th century, many European states either adopted the French model or drafted their own codes. In
Colonial expansion spread the civil law system and European civil law has been adopted in much of Latin America as well as in parts of
Roman law today
Today, Roman law is no longer applied in legal practice, even though the legal systems of some states like
As steps towards a unification of the private law in the member states of the European Union are being taken, the old Ius Commune, which was the common basis of legal practice everywhere, but allowed for many local variants, is seen by many as a model.
Auctoritas (power of the sovereign)
Basileus (akin to modern sovereign)
Constitution of the
Corpus Iuris Civilis
Imperium (Archons - magistrates - power)
Justitium (akin to modern state of exception)
Lex Caecilia Didia
Lex Duodecim Tabularum
Lex Junia Licinia
List of Roman laws
Res extra commercium
Ancient Greek law
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^ "Roman Law". Catholic Encyclopedia.
^ Jenő Szmodis: The Reality of the Law—From the Etruscan Religion to the Postmodern Theories of Law; Ed. Kairosz, Budapest, 2005.; http://www.jogiforum.hu/publikaciok/231.
^ a b c d e f g "A Short History of Roman Law", Olga Tellegen-Couperus pp. 19–20.
^ Cf. Berger, Adolf. Encyclopedic Dictionary of Roman Law. The American Philosophical Society. 1953. p 529.
^ Jolowicz, H. F. Historical Introduction to the Study of Roman Law.
^ a b c "A Short History of Roman Law" By Olga Tellegen-Couperus, Tellegen-Couper
^ "Civil law (Romano-Germanic)". Encyclopædia Britannica.
Berger, Adolf, "Encyclopedic Dictionary of Roman Law", Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 43, Part 2., Pp. 476.
W. W. Buckland, A Textbook of Roman Law from Augustus to Justinian,
Fritz Schulz, History of Roman Legal Science,
Peter Stein, Roman Law in European History.
Andrew Borkowski and Paul Du Plessis, Textbook on Roman law.
Barry Nicholas, An Introduction to Roman Law. Rev. ed. Ernest Metzger. Clarendon Press, 2008 (ISBN 978-0-19-876063-4).
Jill Harries, "Law and Empire in Late Antiquity"
Gábor Hamza, Das römische Recht und die Privatrechtsentwicklung in Russland im modernen Zeitalter In: Journal on European History of Law, London: STS Science Centre, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 20 – 26, (ISSN 2042-6402).
An extensive collection of digital books and articles on Roman Law and History, in various languages. By professor Luiz Gustavo Kaercher
A very good collection of resources maintained by professor Ernest Metzger.
The Roman Law Library by Professor Yves Lassard and Alexandr Koptev
The Roman Law Articles of Smith's Dictionary
Roman Legal Tradition: open access journal devoted to Roman law